Summer 2002

The Big Dry

Cows plus drought equals misery for rivers in the West

Top 10 western rivers trampled by the livestock industry

1. Bear River -- Utah, Wyoming, Idaho

2. Salmon River -- Idaho

3. Gila River -- New Mexico, Arizona

4. John Day River -- Oregon

5. Owyhee River -- Oregon, Nevada, Idaho

6. Sweetwater River -- Wyoming

7. Big Hole River -- Montana

8. Little Humboldt River -- Nevada

9. Yampa River -- Colorado

10. Kern River -- California

Buyout or Bailout?

A Killing in the Klamath

2002 Cascadia Times

Top 10 western rivers trampled by the livestock industry

9 Yampa River - Colorado


Will the Park Service boot the cows?

Colorado's Yampa River takes a notable place in the West's long-running drama over river protection. Once at the center of an historic fight over dams, the Yampa now stands in the middle of a precedent-setting dispute over grazing.

The Yampa flows from the mountains of Moffatt and Routt counties in the northwestern corner Colorado. As the Yampa approaches the Green River and the Utah border, it enters Dinosaur National Monument. Cattle have grazed in the Monument for over a century, but the National Park Service is now considering a controversial plan to throw the cows out.

Meanwhile, two environmental groups are preparing to take ranchers to federal court in an effort to move cows off public lands higher up in the Yampa basin. In an appeal this year of one grazing permit, Sinapu, of Boulder, Colo., and the Western Watersheds Project of Hailey, Idaho, claimed that grazing threatens rare, sensitive and declining species such as listed Colorado River native fish and sage grouse in the Yampa basin. They also said the Bureau of Land Management failed to do what it could to reduce water quality problems in the basin.

The two groups' appeal of one grazing permit was denied this year by the Interior Lands Board of Appeals, but may resurface next year with 74 other contested grazing permits in a federal lawsuit. The two groups claim the BLM's grazing program in the Yampa basin fails to comply with the agency's land-use plan and violates the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA.

That land-use plan, developed in the 1980s, is hopelessly out of date," says Jon Marvel, executive director of Western Watersheds.

The appeal contended that the BLM failed to monitor grazing damage in wetlands, including springs and seeps, according to the groups' appeal. The BLM has documented water quality problems in major streams, but ignores damage to springs, small streams and tributaries, the appeal said. The BLM also reported that past water developments and fences protecting springs have not been maintained, and allowed them to be degraded. Yet the BLM persists in keeping livestock numbers high, the complaint said.

But John Husband, the BLM manager in the area, said the agency is "managing the grazing program to meet land health standards and improve resource conditions. We're doing a great job, making positive changes as necessary."

The allotments covered by the appeal include potential habitat for the four endangered Colorado fish- humpback chub, bonytail chub, Colorado pike minnow and razorback sucker, among other species. But the BLM denies grazing harms those species.

The BLM also violated its own regulations by failing to determine whether stream temperatures or levels of fecal coliform meet state water quality standards, the complaint said.

Drought, grazing and irrigation diversions have taken a huge toll this year on the Yampa. Flows at Maybell, upstream from Dinosaur National Monument, have run at 10 percent of normal all summer long, and were at an all-time low in August.

Conditions in the river could have been much worse. In the 1950s, the Bureau of Reclamation planned to build two large dams inside Dinosaur National Monument--one in Echo Park and the other near Split Mountain--as part of the Upper Colorado River Storage Project. Both dams would have inundated large areas in the Yampa under a reservoir largely for the purpose of irrigating hay and alfalfa for livestock.

But in 1956, Congress passed a law banning Echo Park dam, as well as all dams in National Parks and Monuments. In 1960, Congress increased the park's size to 210,000 acres to protect the Yampa and Green River canyons. It also ordered the eventual end of grazing within the Monument's boundaries. Today, 42 years later, the cows are still around. The Park Service is now preparing an Environmental Impact Statement that will evaluate the question of whether the cows should go. The final EIS is due in November with a decision coming in January 2003.

Today 11 grazing allotments, of 80,000 acres, grazed by nine pemittees, are allowed within the monument.

One of those permittees is the Mantle family. When Dinosaur expanded in 1938 and incorporated more than 200,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management lands, the Mantle family received grazing rights on about 32,000 acres.

The Mantles have allowed their cattle to roam into unauthorized areas of Dinosaur Monument along the Yampa River. Willows and other wetland vegetation have been stripped bare, rare alcove bog orchids have been lost, and microbiotic crusts that prevent erosion have been crushed, according to the National Park Conservation Association. The group said one side of the canyon is trampled so badly it may take 200 years to return it to its natural state.